Casa de Colores School of Traditional Mexican Cooking

A Unique Culinary Adventure in Cabo

Archive for Cooking Classes

LA MERCED – GREAT GRANDADDY OF TRADITIONAL MARKETS!

SHOPPING IN MEXICOCactus HeavenCactus Heaven…

¡Muchos saludos desde Cabo San Lucas!

I just got home from a serious chile buying expedition to South Central Mexico… sadly my little corner of the Mexican Republic is not blessed with traditional markets, but a short plane ride takes me straight into the heart of it all. These days we have domestic air carriers like Interjet and Volaris that make it easy and affordable to hop on over to Mexico City, Guadalajara and lots of other great destinations that DO shop the way they’ve done for over a thousand years!

La Merced is the largest retail market in Mexico City, which I would imagine puts it at the top of the heap nationally. It’s only about 13 blocks east of the Zocalo, the amazing public square in the Historical Center that is the cultural heart of the country. It’s named after its neighborhood, as well as the ancient monastery which previously occupied the sprawling space it inhabits. It is filled with life and color and smells and sights and sounds like no place else on the planet, well worth a visit if you are an adventurous traveler!

There are two metro stops for La Merced, including one that puts you right inside, immediately surrounding you with STUFF in surreal quantities, and the people hawking it are no less colorful.  Anything you can imagine, and lots of things you never even thought of are sold at this great- great- great-grandaddy of Mexican markets, including a mind-boggling array of ladies young and old selling their own personal wares in this place where prostitution is the norm, serving local working class men including the many many truck drivers who have spare time between loads.

I was on the hunt for dried chiles, and was not disappointed. After passing through nopal cactus heaven where the air is overwhelmingly fresh, corn heaven where corn on and off the cob surrounds you on all sides, leaf heaven with dried and fresh corn husks for tamales and mixiotes, GIGANTIC sweet-smelling banana leaves in huge neat bundles for tamales, pibil and other good things… finally we came upon the chiles.

And what chiles! After passing a few initial stalls with puny, dried up specimens we came upon rows and rows of stalls displaying soft, flexible, shiny, overwhelmingly fragrant chiles in all shapes and sizes.  I’m coming to the end of my season, so I only scored a couple of pounds of each (in their dried form, a pound is a bunch of chiles)–beautiful burgundy red anchos redolent of sun dried raisins for stuffing with cheese, meat mixtures, chorizo, potato and onion hash, or for making moles… shiny jewel red guajillos for salsas and soups, and even some long, midnight black Mexican pasillas with their rich, complex flavor, so fresh they brought tears to my eyes thinking of the pleasure of stuffing them with Menonite-made Chihuahua cheddar cheese and frying them golden in a tender egg batter….

Take a camera!

Take a camera!

So much to buy and so little space in the bags. Still, we had to get out of La Merced which meant passing through more indescribable quantities of STUFF, which of course had to include kitchen equipment… The first stall in the kitchen equipment area obviously had everything you could ever want or need to set up a commercial kitchen. I asked the friendly proprietor if she had molds for conchas, the Mexican sweet rolls with the seashell pattern cut into the streusel they’re topped with. Of course! Would you like that in stainless or tin? There’s a $10 peso difference in price–I went for the gusto, paying about $4.50 US for a beautiful stainless cutter with two patterns–cannot wait to bake! I have looked high and low for a concha cutter for years–naturally it’s the first thing you stumble over in La Merced.Conchas

And so much more… stainless steel pots and pans and skillets in every size and shape imaginable, commercial kitchen gear, utensils and lo! a fantastically beautiful array of COPPER comales! I had to have one! I suspect it will be wonderful for making tortillas, and sure looks good in the kitchen!

And of course, portable electric stone mills for grinding nixtamal for homemade, whole grain, stone ground corn tortillas. How ever will I get it back to Cabo? Stay tuned.

Don’t miss La Merced!

Muchos saludos y buen provecho,
Donna

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No More Classes Until October 15!!

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It’s been a fantastic season, starting out slow on the heels of Odile… we did our first classes last October out of my home kitchen with an ice box, feeling very much like we’d slipped through a time warp back into the old Cabo,,,  Ten months and a whole bunch of construction later, the Casa de Colores is better than ever with a brand new metal structure roof and gigantic deck, plus a whole lot more.

I will be in Mexico City with Manuel as of Sunday, crawling through South Central Mexico’s legendary traditional markets like the one shown above. .  IMG_1199

It’s Tlaxcala’s thousand year old pre-Hispanic market, and these tamales are sold by ancestors of the original vendors… still made from lake fish stuffed with tiny lake fish, wrapped in the inner membrane of the cactus tequila is made from–mixiote–then charred directly in glowing coals until cooked to smoky perfection.  Such a shock to first world eyes to see not only pre-Hispanic, but pre-HISTORIC cooking still going on in Mexico, like the ancient recipe for stone soup, cooked by adding hot rocks to each bowl!

I turn 60 in October, and Manuel will be 64.  As he is a huge Beatles fan, it has to be a major celebration–we’re thinking Cuba, or possibly Chiapas/Guatemala… stay tuned.  In any case we will be crawling through markets collecting ideas and ingredients for my seventh season, which will begin on October 15th.  Hope to see you there.

Have a great summer, and keep cooking MEXICAN!

!Provecho!

Donna

COOKING UP A STORM: LIFE AFTER ODILE

IMG_4488
A warm, dry greeting to all from Mexico City!

In the wee hours of September 15th our beloved Cabo community sat peacefully within the eye of a monster–the most intense hurricane to make landfall on Baja Sur during the satellite era.  The calm was not to last, as Odile hammered away at the southern tip of Baja accompanied by repeated shaking from quakes centered around San Felipe in Baja Norte registering from 4 to 5.2.  Odile even spawned tornadoes I am told by friends who were there, hanging on for dear life as a real live monster created storms within storms…

A true tale of horror!  I was spared the full trauma of the event as I breathlessly watched Odile’s progress through the window of my computer, high and dry with Manuel in Mexico City.  It would be days before I knew the extent of the damage to Baja Sur, and to my beautiful kitchen.

I lost my second story roof to pressures equal to those of Florida’s Hurricane Andrew.  I count myself lucky, because many hard working locals lost everything they own to what has been called the Odile Ordeal.  Lots of concerned cooks who have adopted Cabo as their own community have contacted me to find out how I am, how Cabo is, and how they might help.  There are many ways to support a disaster area, but I would say that without a doubt the most important thing people can do is to COME ON DOWN!  Visit Cabo, and you are helping to rebuild in the most direct way possible.

Will I be cooking?  You bet!  My first scheduled class, appropriately making Comfort Foods, will take place on October 17th.  Luckily I have a spare beautiful kitchen, and my plan is to keep on cooking downstairs as repairs go on overhead.  Considering the quality of the people who support me I don’t think it will be long before we are all cooking in my new and improved kitchen upstairs!

Manuel and I have had wonderful adventures this summer visiting more of Mexico’s magical towns and cities.  We spent a couple of weeks in Michoacán, which I have always been told is Mexico’s most beautiful state.  It is indeed a very special place–the capital city of Morelia is a city of stone, perfectly proportioned architectural gems from the 16th century onward in all directions as far as the eye can see, centered around the fabulous iconic cathedral with its twin 70m towers…  And the Lake Patzcuaro area of Day of the Dead fame is even more amazing than we had expected.  I will reluctantly leave our travels to Michoacán, Puebla, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and the Federal District for future articles, though I am posting like crazy on Trip Advisor to help travelers find their way to these incredible destinations.

My warmest greetings and deepest thanks to all of you who have been in touch.  Your communication has meant more to me than words can express, and I look forward to this season of cooking with you all like never before!  All reports from Cabo indicate that things have come together in record time to prepare for your visit.  Manuel and I will be home on Sunday, lugging lots of wonderful freshly dried chiles and other goodies, ready to cook up a storm… in a good way, of course!

Special credit to Manuel for today’s photo.  Nice shot!

¡Buen provecho!

Donna

LA MERCED – GREAT GRANDADDY OF TRADITIONAL MARKETS!

SHOPPING IN MEXICOCactus HeavenCactus Heaven…

¡Muchos saludos desde Cabo San Lucas!

I just got home from a serious chile buying expedition to South Central Mexico… sadly my little corner of the Mexican Republic is not blessed with traditional markets, but a short plane ride takes me straight into the heart of it all. These days we have domestic air carriers like Interjet and Volaris that make it easy and affordable to hop on over to Mexico City, Guadalajara and lots of other great destinations that DO shop the way they’ve done for over a thousand years!

La Merced is the largest retail market in Mexico City, which I would imagine puts it at the top of the heap nationally. It’s only about 13 blocks east of the Zocalo, the amazing public square in the Historical Center that is the cultural heart of the country. It’s named after its neighborhood, as well as the ancient monastery which previously occupied the sprawling space it inhabits. It is filled with life and color and smells and sights and sounds like no place else on the planet, well worth a visit if you are an adventurous traveler!

There are two metro stops for La Merced, including one that puts you right inside, immediately surrounding you with STUFF in surreal quantities, and the people hawking it are no less colorful.  Anything you can imagine, and lots of things you never even thought of are sold at this great- great- great-grandaddy of Mexican markets, including a mind-boggling array of ladies young and old selling their own personal wares in this place where prostitution is the norm, serving local working class men including the many many truck drivers who have spare time between loads.

I was on the hunt for dried chiles, and was not disappointed. After passing through nopal cactus heaven where the air is overwhelmingly fresh, corn heaven where corn on and off the cob surrounds you on all sides, leaf heaven with dried and fresh corn husks for tamales and mixiotes, GIGANTIC sweet-smelling banana leaves in huge neat bundles for tamales, pibil and other good things… finally we came upon the chiles.

And what chiles! After passing a few initial stalls with puny, dried up specimens we came upon rows and rows of stalls displaying soft, flexible, shiny, overwhelmingly fragrant chiles in all shapes and sizes.  I’m coming to the end of my season, so I only scored a couple of pounds of each (in their dried form, a pound is a bunch of chiles)–beautiful burgundy red anchos redolent of sun dried raisins for stuffing with cheese, meat mixtures, chorizo, potato and onion hash, or for making moles… shiny jewel red guajillos for salsas and soups, and even some long, midnight black Mexican pasillas with their rich, complex flavor, so fresh they brought tears to my eyes thinking of the pleasure of stuffing them with Menonite-made Chihuahua cheddar cheese and frying them golden in a tender egg batter….

Take a camera!

Take a camera!

So much to buy and so little space in the bags. Still, we had to get out of La Merced which meant passing through more indescribable quantities of STUFF, which of course had to include kitchen equipment… The first stall in the kitchen equipment area obviously had everything you could ever want or need to set up a commercial kitchen. I asked the friendly proprietor if she had molds for conchas, the Mexican sweet rolls with the seashell pattern cut into the streusel they’re topped with. Of course! Would you like that in stainless or tin? There’s a $10 peso difference in price–I went for the gusto, paying about $4.50 US for a beautiful stainless cutter with two patterns–cannot wait to bake! I have looked high and low for a concha cutter for years–naturally it’s the first thing you stumble over in La Merced.Conchas

And so much more… stainless steel pots and pans and skillets in every size and shape imaginable, commercial kitchen gear, utensils and lo! a fantastically beautiful array of COPPER comales! I had to have one! I suspect it will be wonderful for making tortillas, and sure looks good in the kitchen!

And of course, portable electric stone mills for grinding nixtamal for homemade, whole grain, stone ground corn tortillas. How ever will I get it back to Cabo? Stay tuned.

Don’t miss La Merced!

Muchos saludos y buen provecho,
Donna

OLD FRIEND, NEW PARTNER, HOT TOUR!

I started the Breakfast and Marketing Tour over the summer as a kind of joke.  I never thought so many people would be willing to get out in the volcano heat of Cabo’s hurricane season in search of traditional Mexico and Mexican foods!  Unlikely as it seems, it was hot hot hot — and that’s no joke!  So much so, in fact, that once I was able to get back in the kitchen lots of people wanted to do both the Tour AND a cooking class! 

Enthusiastic and energetic as I am when it comes to Mexican food, I cannot do it all!  The solution is a perfect one.  My Mexican cuisine and culture guru, Claudia Velo, has taken over this part of the Casa de Colores program.  With no further ado, I’d like her to introduce herself.  I hope you’ll get a chance to meet her in person on a Cabo visit.  She’ll give you an unforgettable, truly  Mexican experience.

Muchos saludos,

Donna

When Donna asked me to help her with the Breakfast and Marketing Tour in Cabo my heart did a triple somersault of joy because this means the universe, through my wonderful friend Donna, is giving me yet another chance to share my passion for Mexican culture and cuisine with the wonderful, adventurous people who choose to explore beyond the obvious sand-and-sun beauty of Mexico.

And so… here is my official introduction to all of you foodies that follow Donna on her culinary adventures at Casa De Colores.

I was born and raised in Mexico City, and my whole life I have had an intense love affair with Mexican traditions and cuisine which was intensified all the more when I spent time abroad and found out how precious our traditions truly are, how complex our culinary landscape really is, and how it has related to other cultures through centuries of history and exchanges from the merely commercial to the profoundly passionate.  Remind me to tell you in another participation in this blog about how the China Poblana costume was created, and I think you’ll understand what I mean. 

I believe my love affair with Mexican traditions began in my childhood when I spent endless hours at the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City where my mom worked as curator of the ethno-history exhibits.  Instead of reading fairy tales, I read about Mexico’s history and legends, and later on when I ventured into the hospitality industry in Puerto Vallarta I realized how I loved to share this knowledge with visitors who are interested in Mexico.  At that time I contributed cultural content about Mexican traditions to several tourist guides such as Frommer’s, Berlitz and Mexico’s Beach Resorts for Dummies.

When I had the chance to design and open the Cultural Center at the Four Seasons in Punta Mita I began to fully realize how fulfilling it was to share little known facts about origins and reasons behind Mexico’s traditions with visitors from near and far. 

Now, I am excited beyond words at the opportunity to share with you the wonderful culinary wealth of Mexico that has become available in Los Cabos thanks to a fortunate and rare set of circumstances…  so come and let’s explore the marvels of Mexico’s cuisine in places off the beaten path and stroll aisles filled with traditional Mexican products…  I guarantee you will have a wonderful experience and learn how to use many ingredients that I bet you had no idea what to make of before.

See you in Cabo!

Claudia

THE SPICES OF MEXICO…

Where does the time go?  Some time back I promised an article on spices used in Mexican cooking… it’s mid-September and only now have I found a moment to sit down and get to it!  Here goes.

It’s a big job to sum up spices used in traditional Mexican cooking, but let’s begin with cilantro, mentioned in Sanskrit texts dating back to 1500 BC.  The Romans carried it throughout Europe, and of course the Spanish brought it along to Mexico where it was eagerly adopted and has become an integral part of the Mexican diet.  Note that unless you reserve cilantro and add it only at the time you serve your dish, its flavor goes off very very quickly, leading  many people to conclude that it’s icky.  Serve is super fresh to truly appreciate the beauty of cilantro!

Comino (cumin) is native to the Mediterranean, another Spanish addition the use of which has become almost overwhelming in Tex Mex and some other northern styles of Mexican cooking.  Fine Mexican dishes reserve cumin’s pungent, slightly smoky, bitter taste as a grace note.

Canela (cinnamon bark), a native of Ceylon, is used extensively in many sauces, stews, meat dishes, desserts, fruit dishes and certainly in a good Mexican cafe de olla.  It combines well and frequently with other sweet herbs and spices like cloves, allspice, nutmeg, star anise and fresh mint.

There are a wide variety of  beautiful traditional herbs used mostly in the south of Mexico such as Epazote with its bright green serrated leaves and incomparable fresh scent, essential for good black beans in the south; Hoja Santa with its lovely heart shape and fresh, light anise flavor used to flavor dishes or as a wrap for steaming fish; and Avocado Leaves, used both fresh and dried, with their addictively resinous, licorice-bay aroma and flavor used to season mixiotes, soups, chicken and fish, barbacoa, beans etc. 

Fresh banana leaves add so much flavor to tamales or dishes wrapped in them for steaming or baking that they deserve to join the list.  And here I’ll mention achiote paste, made from crushed deep red annato seeds and other spices, the indispensable flavor in the marinade for pollo or cochinita pibil, the famous pit barbecue of Yucatan baked in fresh banana leaves, of course!

Another widely used leaf fiber is mixiote from the maguey leaf, used like parchment paper  to wrap and cook meats, fish and poultry.  It turns crisp and adds its special flavor to dishes like the pre-Hispanic tamales sold in the Tlaxcala market, made from large fresh water fish stuffed with tiny fresh water fish, wrapped in mixiote and baked in coals…  I would bet the women who sell them are descendants of other women who sold the same tamales in the same market as long as a thousand years ago!  I have included a picture, below.

I must mention the famous Hierbas de Olor, a special herbal bouquet of bay, thyme and Mexican oregano used to scent and flavor many dishes, as well as plain old black pepper, salt and sugar, all of which play an essential role in traditional Mexican cooking, and cooking all over the world.

Mexico still produces all of its own sugar, and piloncillo is an excellent nutritional choice for sweetening dishes and drinks alike.  It is  made from the juice of the sugar cane which is cooked and poured into molds weighing from 100 grams to 1 kilo.  In Oaxaca you will find excellent sugar called panela because it is made in round molds like panela cheese.

There are a wide variety of nuts and seeds which are used to add flavor and body to traditional Mexican dishes including sesame, amaranth, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans and walnuts. 

Without getting into the chiles, which really require an article unto themselves, this is a quick overview of the flavors used in traditional Mexican cooking.  I have failed to mention many beautiful herbs and spices such as grassy green flat leaf parsley, chamomile and lemon grass…  A complex cuisine like Mexico’s depends on a long list of items to create its signature moles, asados and guisados.  It is well worth a cook’s while to create authentic Mexican flavors at home, which can help us to develop our own personal cuisine to its highest level! 

¡Buen provecho!

Donna

Tacos de Canasta

Funny, I have a tendency to get homesick for Mexico City, a place I would never consider living.

There is nowhere like the city or its people, and certainly nowhere on our planet has such street food!  In a country renowned for street eats, Mexico City is bursting with variety– the sights, sounds and enticing smells everywhere you go…

So when I get homesick for Mexico City, it usually involves food.  In this case, Tacos Sudados de Canasta — Steamed Basket Tacos — something only Mexico could dream up.  These soft, oily, flavorful, comforting morsels are filled with good things which have been stewed for hours for maximum flavor, then wrapped up lovingly in a carefully prescribed way and held, usually in a wicker or carrizo basket, for at least two hours before serving.  Fillings may include mashed potato with cheese and sausage, chicken tinga, chicken and mole, cochinita pibil, refried beans and chicharron prensado.  Here’s how it works:

You need a basket or other container, cloths to line and cover it, plastic to retain steam and brown paper to absorb grease.

Line the basket first with cloth, then plastic, then brown paper and more plastic, then more paper.  Strew a good layer of sliced onions which have been sauteed in a bit of oil with a pinch of oregano until soft and fragrant.

Fill small, fresh, hot tortillas (preferably the little 4″ ones made for tacos, so you can eat more of each filling) with a variety of fillings.  If you can get different colored tortillas — they are made red with chile, green with chile or nopales, and the natural blue of corn or with added cuitlacoche — put a different filling in each color.  Otherwise, devise a stacking system so you can tell which row has a different filling.

Strew more onions between each layer, but not so many that there is a lot of oil filtering down into the bottom layer.

Cover the top layer well with paper, then more plastic and finally a thick layer of cloth to retain heat to steam the tacos well for at least two hours before uncovering and serving.

When you’re walking the streets of Mexico City and run into Tacos de Canasta, don’t hesitate!  Dive in and enjoy with a freshly made salsa, pickled chiles and an ice cold drink…

¡Buen provecho!

Donna